SEO is constantly evolving and it’s common for small businesses to be at different stages of understanding and implementation.
This article will focus on:
- Fundamental SEO principles so you can always align with Google’s interests and survive any algorithm update
- 10 Essential SEO strategies for small businesses who are DIY-ing their digital marketing with limited time and resources
- Leadpages SEO Settings 101 to keep your Leadpages account optimized at all times
If that sounds like what you need, read on!
What is SEO and why is it important for small businesses?
How search engines find & retrieve content
Before you can score a successful SEO results, you first have to understand the players on the field as well as their primary functions.
Let’s start with the position you’re most familiar with and tell the story from that perspective: you’re an internet user and you need some information—a good apple pie recipe perhaps.
(Stay with us—we’re going to pick up the pace in a second.)
You open up Google (a search engine) type in ‘pie dough recipe’ (your search query with the keywords ‘apple pie recipe’). The search engine receives this phrase and, within a few milliseconds, returns several pages of results (SERPs, or search engine result pages). Behind the scenes, these results have been carefully read (crawled) by the engine’s computer program (called a bot, crawler, or spider). The crawler’s job is to systematically browse all the content on the web and file it (index it) into a database. Because content is so precisely organized, your pie dough recipe results are delivered to you almost instantaneously. With the help of an algorithm, content is ranked according to a number of different factors that indicate both quality and relevance, and results are then displayed inside the browser window.
Simple, right? Not exactly. Search engine algorithms are constantly learning and evolving—changing the factors they consider and the importance of each factor. Part of that evolution involves incorporating different kinds of content and picking up on different signals about what a user is really looking to find. Why? Because the better Google satisfies your searches, the more you use their platform, and the more advertising they can sell.
Ok—all of that to establish a few mission-critical principles:
- Search engines depend on happy users (just like the rest of us)
- Users demand high-quality, highly relevant results to their search queries
- Search engines send web traffic to high-quality, highly relevant content
- Search engines are smart—but not perfect.
- The more publishers optimize their content to help crawlers and search engines do their job, the more traffic they’ll receive.
What would the web look like without search engines? Content chaos.
How Search Engines Operate
Google’s ‘bots’ continuously crawl for text, links, and images, etc.
Crawled content is stored and indexed (filed) in databases.
User makes a request.
Rank & retrieve
Algorithms retrieve and rank content according to. the search query. Search engine results, page display, relevant results.
Essential Small Business SEO
SEO can typically be thought of as a few different factors. Here are some of the most important ones:
Technical SEO Factors
Site-wide or code-level factors such as page load speed, HTML tags, meta descriptions, etc.
Site performance & speed, mobile experience (responsiveness), Behavioral metrics (bounce rate), etc.
On-Page SEO Factors
The quality and quantity of your content as well as how it is organized throughout your website.
Including: Keywords, structured content, content length, frequency of updates, etc.
Off-Page SEO Factors
Inbound links from respected domains is a strong signal that your content has a good reputation. Credible third-parties “vouch” for the quality of your content and vote with a backlink.
That’s a gross simplification of all the many factors involved in SEO and search engine rankings, but it’s also important not to get lost in the details and lose sight of the one most important thing: creating content that meets your audience’s needs.
Aligning your interests with Google’s is the surefire way to weather any (and every) change in the SEO winds.
Google decides to more heavily weigh one factor over another in its elusive search algorithm? Not a problem—you know that the algorithm is designed to find and deliver relevance and quality (in both content and experience).
John Mueller announces Google may ignore canonical tags and determine for itself which page to give prominence? Not a problem—you’ve structured your content carefully, avoided duplicate content, and prioritized relevance and quality.
That’s not to say that small technical optimizations can’t be extremely beneficial—they certainly can be—and that’s not to diminish the importance of building your business on a platform that takes SEO seriously—you absolutely should. But small businesses with lean teams need to stay focused on ‘north star’ SEO principles, rather than putting their limited resources into short-term workarounds.
If we agree to not miss the forest for the trees, let’s move onto tried-and-true steps that every small business can take to improve their organic search traffic.
How can you improve your small businesses SEO?
Based on our experience optimizing websites and supporting tens of thousands of small businesses doing the same, we’ve put together 10 SEO tips and how you can put them into practice for your business. Here’s what we’ll cover:
What about off-page optimizations and backlinks?
Backlinks were always a factor in search engine results ranking, but as Google has adjusted its algorithm to look for expertise, authoritativeness, and trustworthiness (Google’s E.A.T. guidelines)—they’re now more important than ever. Google measures your content with a number of different factors that signal how strong your E.A.T. is. One of those signals is backlinks from high-quality sources.
Internal links: Link from one page of your website to another page of your website.Important because they signal to Google which content is related, lower your bounce rate, and increase engagement on your website.
External links: Also known as backlinks, these are links that go from an external website source to your website.
External links are commonly thought to be stronger signals to Google (pass more SEO value) than internal links.
Several kinds: nofollow and dofollow links (and a few recent additions)
There’s a lot to be said about the quality of links, different types, and when to use them—which we won’t go into detail on in this article.
So here are 3 SEO link guidelines:
- Not all backlinks are created equal.
Never buy them, beg for them, or attempt to beat Google at this game.
- When possible, link out to sites with a higher domain authority than your own.
Ahrefs offers a free domain authority checker.
The first outbound link on a page is given the most importance.
Neil Patel explains that “Not All Links are Equal: How Backlinks from Different Page Locations are Worth More (Or Less)”.
1- Technical SEO and picking the right publishing platform
Rather than custom coding their websites and landing pages from the ground up, small business owners tend to rely on what-you-see-is-what-you-get (WYSIWYG tools) that make web publishing possible even for the reluctant ‘techies’ of the world. Drag-and-drop platforms, like Leadpages, each specialize in different areas and offer a slightly different array of tools.
So how do you choose the right platform for you? And what SEO capabilities should you look for to make sure your content stays competitive? Here’s what we recommend:
User experience & page load speed
Google looks for positive user experience and prioritizes pages that are fully mobile responsive, fast loading, and that have a low bounce rate (meaning users are engaged).
Curious to see how Leadpages page load speeds compare to the rest? Leadpages load 2.4 seconds faster and have a performance score of 30% higher than close competitors. Which is good news for you, because faster pages = more conversions.
Read all about it: Leadpages Wins the Page Load Speed Race (Helping You Win More Conversions)
Easy-to-use page-level SEO Settings
Whether it’s a web page or a landing page, you should have the ability to easily set your page’s SEO title, keyword, and meta description and preview how your page is likely to appear in search results.
We’ll cover this one in tip #6, but look for the ability to set and change the Title and Alternative text associated with every image you publish.
Need more small business seo tips? Look for a platform that provides you with built-in real-time guidance so that you can rest assured you’re checking all the right boxes before you publish.
2 – Conduct Customer-centric keyword research
This requires (almost) completely rethinking how you approach keyword research and it requires that you walk a mile in your customers’ shoes before you ever sit down to do keyword research.
Your goal here is to tap into the psyche of your prospective clients: uncover the questions they’re asking, learn the language they’re using, and use that information to guide what content you create.
- How do they describe their problems?
- What words are they using to find or recommend your services?
- How does that differ from the messages you’re putting out into the world?
Not sure how to tap into this ‘insider information’? Here are a few ideas to get you started:
- Take a look at your inbox (or ask your customer support team)—to uncover what kind of questions people typically ask about your company or services
- Join forums and online communities—paying attention to popular topics and how they’re discussed
- Read review sites—to learn how your target market talks about similar products or services
- Spend time talking to your prospects and clients—jotting down words and phrases that strike you as significant
Depending on how thorough you are, you are likely to uncover some significant insights. For example, you may have described yourself as an ‘executive coach’ while your clients tend to call you a ‘management consultant’ or ‘business coach.’
Once you’ve got a grip on their word choices, then sit down to find the search data. Evaluate the search volume and the competitiveness of each term and look for that sweet spot of high volume and low competition—those are your opportunities.
Google’s free Keyword Planner is a great way to conduct keyword research for free. Simply input your keyword ideas explore related terms, and hunt for opportunities (high volume of monthly searches with low competition). Create and maintain a master list of these ‘opportune’ keywords to inspire your content creation and blog articles for months to come.
Struggling to find a ‘sweet spot’? Get a geo-focus.
Trying to rank your content for a broad, general keyword such as ‘hire a life coach’ is going to be extremely difficult. It will require long-form content, an excellent domain authority (website reputation), and many (many) high-quality backlinks even to break into the top 10 pages of search results. Instead of climbing that uphill battle, try to narrow your focus to a specific region or city.
3 – Map your keywords to content
Now that you know what makes a good keyword (fit to your customers and company, high search volume, low competition), it’s time to connect each keyword to content that you’ll publish. Whether it’s a page on your website or a blog article, each page should have a unique focus keyword.
To get started, here’s what we recommend:
- Prioritize your keyword list for the ‘sweet spot’ keyword (or keyword phrase) that are most relevant to your business
- Make a list of all the ‘must-have pages’ on your website and assign each a keyword (or keyword phrase)
- For the remaining priority keywords, assign each a blog article and an estimated publish date
You can decide to do this in whatever tool is most convenient for you—as long as it allows you to keep your keyword research and site/article map organized and in one place, then it’s doing its job.
When you’re finished, your keyword content map may look something like this:
4 – Use the proper headline and title tags in your content
By including your primary keyword as well as synonyms (sometimes called LSI Keywords), you provide better signals to search engines that your content is relevant and extensive.
Let’s take a look at an example from the Landing Pages Guide on the Leadpages website:
H1: What is a landing page?
H2: What are landing pages used for?
H3: Lead generation landing pages
H3: Sales pages
H2: When it’s time for action, use a call to action
H2: Make landing pages work for you
5 – Make your meta descriptions mega clickable
What is a meta description?
It’s an HTML tag that contains a short snippet of text that summarizes the content on a page. This brief description—similar to a brief abstract—typically appears alongside a link on a search engine’s result page. Their primary purpose? To get people to click on your link instead of anything else on the page.
Because this description sends strong signals to both the search engine and the searcher—it’s very important to write it well.
Yoast SEO offers a few tips for how to create the right meta description
- Include up to 155 characters in the description itself
- Write in an active voice (and remember that the primary goal of a meta description is to entice a user to click on your link)
- Include specifics (numbers are clickable, vague language is not)
- Include a call to action
- Include your primary keyword (or keyword phrase)
- Make sure your meta description closely mirrors the content on the page (relevance is key)
- Don’t use the same meta description more than once
Inside your Leadpages account:
Set the title, keywords, and description of any page or site in the Settings tab under the SEO tab. Instantly preview how your page is likely to appear in search engine results and make adjustments to increase clarity and to compel visitors to click.
6 – Optimize your images
Written text content isn’t the only thing that needs to be optimized for search engines, the images you place on your pages and blog articles also need some special attention. Thankfully—it’s quite quick.
Similar to a page’s meta description, your image files contain certain HTML tags and attributes that help search engines accurately index them within databases.
Each image should have the following:
- Title tags
- Alt text (alternative text)
Adding these details to your image can help describe your image to users who have images disabled or who use a screen reader. Many search engines also rely on alt text and image titles for providing relevant results, for that reason, it’s important to include your primary keyword (or closely related keywords) in each.
Inside your Leadpages account:
Easily set image titles and alt text. When you select an image for your page, you can specify custom title and alt text to describe the image.
7 – Close the gap: perform regular content gap analyses to stay competitive
SEO is not a ‘set it and forget it’ kind of operation. Quite the contrary: it requires careful monitoring and maintenance. One of the best habits that you can acquire is to conduct a regular content gap analysis and adjust your content accordingly.
Essentially, you want to know how well your page is performing in search results and what you can tweak in order to win more traffic and conversions.
Note: there are a lot of $$$ SEO tools to help you build incredibly detailed content briefs and content analyses—and—there’s quite a few optimizations you can identify and implement. It all depends on your goals and available resources. For the sake of this article, we’ll focus exclusively on low-cost and free tools.
Focusing on a single page and focus keyword at a time, here’s the content gap method we recommend:
- Learn the landscape of the search result page
In incognito mode on Google Chrome, google your focus keyword on both a desktop computer and mobile device. What kind of content do you see on the first page of search results?
- Analyze top-ranking content for your target keyword
What can you learn about what ranks well for this term that you can use to improve your content?
- How have they approached the topic?
- What do they do differently or better?
- How long is their content?
- What subtopics do they explore, that you’ve left out?
- What kind of multimedia do they include?
- What can you learn from the links they’ve included?
- Adjust your content
Most often this involves adding content and rearranging existing content.
- If you noticed that top-ranking pages have far more content than your page, look for opportunities to be more thorough in your exploration of the topic.
- If you noticed a ‘people also ask’ element in the search engine results, try to include those as subheaders (h2, h3, or h4) within your content.
- If you noticed an ‘image pack,’ double-check that all your images and image tags are optimized fully.
- Increase the number of your incoming links
Since Google’s recent E.A.T. algorithm update, the trust and reputation factor is now more important than ever—which means quality incoming links matter. Spend some time cultivating connections with other online publishers and sharing your content on social so that others are more likely to link to you.
8 – Featured snippets
Once upon a time, search engine results were strictly blue links and meta descriptions—but those days are gone. Today, the landscape of search engine results is peppered with all kinds of multimedia content. Why? Because it’s Google’s effort to give searchers quick access to the content that will best answer their question—and it’s not always text that wins the day.
What are Google’s featured snippets?
They’re selected search results (often containing multimedia) that are featured on top of Google’s organic results and below the Google ads, on a results page. Sometimes it’s a snippet of a video, an audio clip from a podcast, a bulleted list lifted out of a longer article, etc.
Google’s algorithm is literally slicing and dicing content to serve it up to search queries in whatever way it believes is most likely to leave the searcher feeling satisfied.
Here’s what snippets look like:
So what’s the opportunity for you?
- Take a look at the search landscape for the keyword you’re targeting
(Try searching on multiple devices and in incognito mode)
- If People Also Ask is present, aim to include those questions as subheaders (h2, h3, h4, etc.) in your text
- If an Image Pack is present, double-check to make sure all your images are fully optimized
- Look for other opportunities to modify your content to make it more likely to be pulled into these dynamic search results
The increase of featured snippets has resulted in more no-click searches (as users quickly see the answer to their query and never click through to the original publisher). They’ve also made measuring ‘position’ less useful—after all, the link in ‘Position 1’ on the above example would be several scrolls down the page on a mobile device. That being said, consider measuring impressions as well as clicks, traffic, and conversions.
9 – Apply the 80/20 rule (Pareto Principle)
In other words, remember that roughly 80% of the rewards come from 20% of your optimizations. Find that 20% and focus there—forgetting all the minutia, and all those short-lived trends.
Here’s how to make this real:
- Locate the top 20% of pages that receive the most organic traffic today, optimize those.
- Locate the top 20% of pages that convert your visitors today, optimize those.
- Identify the gaps in your content (what topics haven’t you addressed?), evaluate which 20% of those topics are closest to a buying decision, publish those.
10 – An SEO Reality Check
As a small business marketer, the more diverse your marketing channels are (where your traffic comes from) the more stable your business will be as different platforms change their policies and popularity. Organic search is changing—rapidly, and it’s becoming increasingly more difficult to win free traffic.
Absolutely, focus on the 10 essential small business SEO steps outlined in this article, but don’t miss the opportunity to leverage other channels in your marketing mix. Most frequently this means cultivating a social media following (ideally on at least 2 social networks), building an email marketing list and nurturing those relationships, partnering with adjacent businesses for co-marketing, and investing in paid media—whether that’s paid social ads or search engine marketing.
Decide. If ‘yes’—then invest (team, tools, time).
If you’re serious about organic search as a traffic source for your business, you really deserve to set yourself up for success. That means investing in the right tools, teammates, and time required to make your content competitive online.
There’s a great deal of insight you can gather from inside your Google Analytics account, looking at the search engine results, conducting your own content gap analysis etc. But if that’s not enough to keep you competitive within your industry or space, it might be time to partner with professionals, grow your team, and subscribe to dedicated SEO software tools.
How often should SEO be done?
That depends on your resources and publishing schedule, but SEO audits and updates should be done at least once a month (though we recommend checking on your performance and traffic results weekly).
Eager to learn more about SEO for your small business?
Here are a few of our favorite resources:
- (Video) How Search Works
- The Beginner’s Guide To SEO by MOZ
- The Search Engine Book
- Google’s SEO Starter Guide
Leadpages SEO Settings
To make SEO as user-friendly and fool-proof as possible, Leadpages comes with built-in best practices (such as best-in-class page load speeds, mobile responsiveness, structured HTML).
SEO Settings: Meta descriptions & SERP Previews
Every page—whether it’s a landing page or a page within your website—also comes with easy-to-use SEO settings and previews. Within these settings, you’re able to set the title, keywords, and description of any webpage.
If you’re unsure what to put in your page or site’s SEO fields, review this article from Google: Create good titles and snippets in Search Results ↗
Headline Tags: H1, H2, H3, etc.
Earlier, we discussed why it’s so important to use headline tags strategically throughout your web pages and content. Within the Leadpages headline widget, these settings are simple and displayed in plain English.
- Jumbo, Headline = <h1>
- Subhead = <h2>
- Small Subhead = <h3>
SEO settings are located in the Lead Page Options next to Tracking Codes in the Standard Builder, as indicated above.
For additional tips, check out Google’s Webmaster Guidelines. While you may not be able to implement every single best practice, their guide provides handy advice for optimizing your pages.
Getting Started with Small Business SEO
Google is focused on the highest quality content and user experience — the nuances of its algorithm will change, but that core principle won’t change. With that in mind, here are a few key takeaways:
- Align your objective with Google
Focus on quality content & creating a positive experience for your users.
- Take care of the basic optimizations
Because ranking factors and search algorithms (the weight given to those factors) are constantly changing, focus on the basics.
- Don’t take shortcuts
Google outsmarts SEOs. SEOs don’t outsmart Google, and workarounds backfire eventually.